What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis is medical term for a group of rare autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation of the lining of blood vessels. It can affect the entire body or focus on a particular organ. Different types of vasculitis affect different parts of the body. The type of vasculitis determines the symptoms, severity and duration of the condition.

The immune system mistakenly attacks the blood vessels causing inflammation. The inflammation can thicken the vessel walls and narrows the blood vessels decreasing blood flow, or totally closes off the blood vessels with scar tissue; or it can weaken the blood vessels causing bulging or aneurysms and blood clots. Inflammation can lead to serious consequences such as organ and tissue damage, blood clots, vision loss and infections. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent permanent damage.

What are the symptoms of vasculitis?

Because vasculitis can be caused by numerous diseases, the symptoms vary. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, swelling, weight loss, night sweats, rashes, nerve problems, and general aches and pains. In some cases, shortness of breath, numbness and a rash, sores or ulcers can develop on the skin. Symptoms and complications depend on the type of vasculitis, the organs involved and the severity of the condition.

What causes vasculitis?

There are many kinds of vasculitis and depending on the type, the condition can be short term, life-threatening or chronic. The cause is not known but is genetic and can be triggered by infections such as hepatitis B or C, smoking, reaction to a medication, or as part of a rheumatic disease like Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma. It affects both sexes, all races and ages.

How is vasculitis diagnosed?

Your Ortho Illinois rheumatologist will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms and in addition will order special blood tests, biopsies, chest x-rays, ultrasounds, and cardiac angiography (imaging of the inside of the blood vessels) as needed. When no other cause can be identified, symptoms and abnormal tests suggest vasculitis. The type of vasculitis is determined by the size of the blood vessels, and the organs that are involved. Depending on the organs involved, your Ortho Illinois doctor may refer you to the appropriate specialist.

How is vasculitis treated?

Treatment depends on the type of vasculitis, the organs affected and the severity of your condition.

Glucocorticoids (steroids) are an important part of treatment, because they help reduce inflammation in the body. However, these drugs have long term side effects. Other drugs to suppress the immune system have less serious side effects than steroids and may be recommended. One such drug is called cyclophosphamide which may be ordered when vital organs are endangered.

Less serious vasculitis patients may be prescribed other immune suppressive drugs. Recent research found that a new drug named rituximab effectively treats severe forms of vasculitis. In the most severe vasculitis cases, surgery may be required to bypass damaged blood vessels to restore blood flow.

At Ortho Illinois, our team of board-certified Rheumatologists are experts and work to provide the most advanced and individualized care based on the latest research and guidelines.

Ortho Illinois has offices in Algonquin, Elgin, and Rockford for your convenience. Contact us to schedule a consultation and receive the correct diagnosis and treatment from our renowned physicians.